Should I Get the Flu Shot?

It's that time of year where you're asking yourself:  "should I get the flu shot?"  Every fall and winter we are told that the viruses that cause the common cold and flu are out of control and that the next pandemic will sweep across the world, killing anything in its path. Not to mention hit movies such as Contagion declaring this as a very real possibility. This leaves me with one question: should I get the flu shot? I mean even President Obama gets it...

To answer this question, we have to take a look at a few things.
Firstly, since 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu shot annually. There are also some population groups that are at higher risk for developing complications from the flu**:
  • Kids younger than 5 years old
  • Adults 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • The immunocompromised (ie. those with HIV, AIDS, cancer, etc.)
  • Those with pre-existing medical conditions (ie asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease)
  • Health care workers (doctors, nurses, etc)
  • People who live with high risk people
**For a complete list click on the CDC link above

One common issue with flu shots is potential side effects. We’ve all heard horror stories about controversial (and very rare) medical anomalies that occurred after getting the flu vaccination, for example the woman who developed dystonia (a rare neuromuscular condition). Other conditions that affect the brain have been reported to be associated with mercury, an ingredient found in some flu vaccines.

While those side effects are extremely rare, you may experience some of the following symptoms after getting the flu shot:
  • Soreness, swelling, or redness around the site of injection (most common)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches or weakness
So is it really necessary for everyone to get vaccinated? How effective is the flu shot in preventing the flu? The results are mixed.   There are several studies done in high-risk people such as the elderly and those with certain medical conditions that show that the flu shot may help prevent death and hospitalizations (from any cause, not just the flu). And what about in healthy people? One large review showed that when the vaccine administered matched the virus in circulation, 3% more of unvaccinated people got the flu compared to vaccinated people.

Another common concern is that those who do get vaccinated can still get the flu.  The flu shot is not able to completely prevent you from getting the flu.  Instead, its effects may be to decrease the severity of the flu if you do get it.  In response to the question "how effective is the flu shot," the CDC says that it depends on the following 3 criteria:
  • Your age
  • Your health status
  • The similarity between the virus(es) in the vaccine and those in circulation
The last criteria is particularly interesting.  There is no guarantee that the viruses in the flu shot will match the current virus strains causing this year's flu.

So where does this leave us?  Long story short, ask questions and get educated about the flu shot by talking to your ND or primary healthcare provider to determine if the flu shot is a good option for you. 

Stay tuned to see what options you have for cold and flu prevention this season....

All the best,
Christine Cho

Photo from
Chan TC, Hung IF, Luk JK, Shea YF, et al. Efficacy of dual vaccination of pandemic H1N1 2009 influenza and seasonal influenza on institutionalized elderly: A one-year prospective cohort study. Vaccine. 2011 Aug 5.
Clements KM, Chancellor J, Nichol K, Delong K, Thompson D. Cost-effectiveness of a recommendation of universal mass vaccination for seasonal influenza in the United States. Value Health. Sep-Oct; 14(6): 800- 11.
Jefferson T, Di Pietrantonj C, Rivetti A, Bawazeer GA, Al-Ansary LA, Ferroni E. Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD001269. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001269.pub4.

Dr. Cho, ND is a naturopathic doctor based in Pickering, Ontario and Richmond Hill, Ontario.  She maintains a private practice focused in pain management and sports nutrition, in addition to a general family practice at Durham Natural Health Centre.  To learn more about Dr. Cho, book a complimentary 15 minute consult by clicking here.  Not in the Durham Region?  Contact her through to learn about more options.


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